We’ve all seen it: the dog who watches his owner intently for the next word, who checks in with his human partner when hiking off leash or even the patient pup who frequently checks in with his human partner. These are examples of engagement between the dog and the pet parent. Engagement is having a connection with our dogs.
As a dog trainer and pet parent, I strongly believe engagement is one of the most important things we can work to develop with our dogs. Strong engagement gives us a focused, involved and happily willing pet partner. We shouldn’t force engagement, but we can build it through various ways and flourish engagement together.
To understand engagement, it helps to understand what it is not. Engagement is not a dog who is fixated or obsessed with a reward, such as toys or food or even barking to grab your attention. An engaged dog wants to focus and work with you, paying attention to you no matter what you are doing or where you are together.
Creating engagement does not magically happen overnight. It’s a process that requires work and time. Here are tips to get you on your way:
1. Start with Your Routine Walk
The top way to build engagement with your dog is to reward him when he engages with you. When you are out on a walk together, reward your dog every time he looks up at you. Reward right away, making sure your timing is immediate so your dog understands the relationship between the action and the reward. I often use a marker word, such as “Yes” as my dog looks at me and then go in with my reward. And, of course, reward with something better than kibble, like a tasty treat.
2. Graduate to “Watch”
The next step is to teach your dog a “Watch” behavior. Once this is a learned behavior and your dog begins to offer it, reward your dog for naturally looking at you and engaging with eye contact when you aren’t specifically asking for it. This can lead to an offered behavior the more you teach and reward, leading to your dog watching you and offering engagement with you.
3. Trick Training
Trick training gives you an opportunity to show your dog how much fun training can be. Training together helps your dog to understand your communication and the rewards that come with training, all while keeping your dog focused on you. These are all things that grow your bond and grows the drive to engage with you.
Every dog deserves play. When you take the time to play with your dog, you build that strong bond. Let him win games every now and then to keep it fun!
By building engagement you will soon have a dog who has a stronger bond with you, enjoys training, is less stressed in new situations and is easier to train and get to focus no matter where you go together. Have fun training together!
Related: Use Food to Engage Your Dog
About the Author: Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA, is a celebrity dog trainer based in Los Angeles. She has trained everything from bears to tigers to leopards as well as household dogs and cats. Nicole has appeared on Amazon’s The Pack, The Today Show, NBC, Fox, MSN, Mashable, Pet360, Travel+Leisure, Huffington Post and more.